Ellery Hathaway, junior officer on the police force in sleepy Woodbury, Massachusetts, will do almost anything to convince her boss that three locals who disappeared over the last three years are victims of a serial killer. Almost anything includes sleeping with him.
But the one thing she won’t do is tell him the whole truth: that her real name is Abby. That as a teenager, she was the lone survivor among a group of girls who were tortured by a famous serial killer. That the recent disappearances all occurred near her birthday. And that someone, presumably the killer, has marked each crime by sending her a creepy-clown birthday card.
Telling the whole truth would make everyone in town look at her differently. Reporters who have longed to tell her story would pound on her door. And she would have to relive the horror that she spent a decade trying to escape.
So begins “The Vanishing Season,” a debut novel by Joanna Schaffhausen that won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Novel Competition. Given the precise prose, the suspenseful plot and the emotionally tortured characters, to say nothing of an irresistible basset hound named Bump, it’s easy to see why.
In desperation, Ellery seeks help from the one person who knows her secret: Reed Markham, the FBI profiler whose career was made all those years ago when he rescued her and put the serial killer behind bars. But Reed, it turns out, has some personal problems of his own, some of them stemming from that old case.
Ellery and Reed eventually make things right, of course, but only after they become both suspects and targets of the killer themselves, and after several people in town pay a high price. Bruce DeSilva, AP